open the pages, read the words, savor the magic
Prelude: In order to get a clear picture of the events in this story, read K. J. Charles’ Flight of Magpies – the third book in A Charm of Magpies series. The story is a standalone but it’ll help better to understand several key plot points if you read the other book first.
This latest ‘Magpie’ offering from K. J. Charles is a tale of redemption for one of the ‘villains’ we first met in Flight of Magpies, Jonah Pastern, but told mostly from the viewpoint of Jonah’s ex-lover, former police constable Ben Spenser, who was betrayed in the worst way possible and is now seeking revenge. We start the story by seeing Ben newly arriving in London with the most intense grudge that even I’ve ever seen in any book… to the point that there’s a rather violent sexual scene of a dubious consent nature in the first part. If that’s not your kink, beware. The scene worried me that this was going to be one of those books that leave me a heartbroken mess by the end of the story. Even though many romantic stories in the M/M genre usually end up with the quarrelsome couple reconciling in the most passionate ways, there’s still not knowing what kind of resolution Jonah and Ben will achieve, especially in the first half of the book where their story is laced with plenty of mistrust and deceit.
But there’s still magic in the air – both literally and figuratively – for this particular pairing. Charles has always been a confident writer, her narrative assured and the world-building complete, so we are treated once again to the wonderful world of practitioners of magic, where the characters walk on winds and have battles in the air and survive on road trips by way of (minor) mind control. It’s a heady world to be a part of – and one of the biggest reasons why I’m obsessed with it – and even more so now that there aren’t horrors lurking in every corner for our characters. The biggest difference between Jackdaw and its predecessors, I think, is how focused this is on the romance, instead of the magic and the mystery that always took over in the previous books. For once we get to explore a couple’s relationship – from being formerly established, to broken up miserably, and finally developed towards a reconciliation – without worrying about murderous witches or giant man-eating rats.
That’s not to say that there’s no great conflict. Ben is a most frustrating character because he goes from hating Jonah to embracing him and then keeping him at arm’s length again. Jonah, too, can be very difficult to like because for half of the book we mostly just see him hurting Ben. The fact that they’re both on the run from the law – both of the natural and supernatural kind – also gives plenty of thrill to the chase. It’s engaging book even without the monsters.
What’s surprising is that I don’t sympathize with Stephen Day, who still plays a huge part in this novel despite his own trilogy being over, as much as I did before. Even when he was at his most stubborn in the previous Magpie trilogy, I could still like and root for Stephen but in this book I just find that he’s mostly there to disturb the peace of the main characters. It’s either that Jonah’s unfavorable opinion of Stephen somehow manages to cloud my own judgment of him or I was tired of Stephen again. Perhaps it’s more of the latter, though, because when Jenny Saint came into the story, I started to bristle as well. I thought their stories have concluded in the previous trilogy and, although this book is closely spun off from that series, they would leave well enough alone. Or maybe I’m just frustrated because Stephen is still so stubborn, hard-headed and unbending… I guess no amount of extreme desirous devotion from Lord Crane could soften him.
Still, any feathers that were ruffled during the course of this story eventually smoothed themselves out. The conclusion is satisfying… pretty, even, and tied with a nice red bow. After all the hardships everyone in the Magpie series have gone through, no other ending but a happy one would do for me and Jackdaw delivers on that front.
If this is to be the last book ever from the Magpie series, I think I can safely say that it has concluded gloriously and triumphantly. But if this is just another part of the series and there’s another book on the way… well, I can only wonder what other magical mayhem we can expect to top this one up. That’s really an exciting idea to have.